UCLA finished off the football recruiting season with a kind of flourish that hasn't been seen in Westwood in a decade. According to Scout.com, the Bruins' recruiting class ended Signing Day tied for 4th in the country (Recruiting Class Rankings).
It jumped over USC, which finished #7.
Then, it didn't hurt that UCLA easily beat USC in hoops, 76-60. In Pauley Pavilion at halftime, there was Rick Neuheisel firing up the crowd like a revivalist preacher talking about his gleaming recruiting class.
While USC, of course, is still a powerhouse, I guess you could say that the UCLA advertisement that claimed the monopoly is over proved to be true as early as the 2009 recruiting class. With UCLA finishing #4 and USC #7, that would definitely seem to be the case.
UCLA's hasn't had a better class since 1999, when it had the #2-ranked class in the nation. Since then, UCLA has had classes ranked 8th (2001), #4 (2002), #24 (2004), #24 (2005), #20 (2006), and #10 (2008).
Neuheisel has put together two top-ten classes in his first two years as head coach in Westwood.
You need talent to win, obviously, and it's clear that Neuheisel is bringing the caliber of player to UCLA that it takes.
What's significant about the 2009 recruiting class is that Neuheisel accomplished it coming off a 4-8 record.
That's truly mind-blowing.
Look at the records of the programs in the top ten of Scout.com's rankings:
#1 Ohio State – 10-3
#2 LSU – 8-5
#3 Alabama – 12-2
#4 UCLA – 4-8
# 4 (tied) North Carolina – 8-5
#6 Texas – 12-1
#7 USC – 12-1
#8 Georgia 10-3
#9 Oklahoma 12-2
#10 Penn State 11-2
Any school's record stand out a bit?
It's a testament to how good of a recruiter Neuheisel is, that he can sell a program that went 4-8 so well.
He does have Norm Chow to sell, which is a considerable asset.
But, as we've maintained for the ten years of doing this job, UCLA itself is a pretty good asset to sell.
As we've said, UCLA is a Sleeping Giant, with advantages in recruiting that, if you have a good coaching staff, should have the program in the top ten annually.
Neuheisel is proving our assertion to be true. Well, at least partially – that if recruits recognize they can come to UCLA and get good coaching, they will come.
The winning, you would think, will follow.
When asked about recruiting so well after a 4-8 record Wednesday, Neuheisel said, "It's where UCLA belongs."
It's that recognition, and Neuheisel's commitment to pursuing elite prospects despite the 4-8 record that made the 2009 recruiting class.
On the unofficial last day of the recruiting season, Neuheisel got commitments from four four-star recruits, which was the best one-day haul of any program in the country.
He got commitments from the #3-ranked offensive guard in the nation, Xavier Su'a-Filo; the #9-ranked offensive guard in the nation, Stan Hasiak; the #33-ranked running back in the nation, Damien Thigpen, and the #13-ranked wide receiver in the nation, Randall Carroll.
Those four recruits, not only because of their rankings, but because of their talents, represent why this class is so significant for UCLA.
Probably the two biggest needs for Neuheisel's program was at the offensive line and to improve team speed. In Su'a-FIlo and Hasiak, he got what many agree is the #1 offensive line prospect in the west in Su'a-Filo, and a big-impact OL in Hasiak, and perhaps two of the fastest prospects in the country in Carroll and Thigpen.
And if you're talking about the "monopoly" thing, it's significant that UCLA stole another recruit committed to USC in Carroll.
In fact, UCLA beat out USC for Su'a-Filo and Hasiak, too.
Even more, we've heard that UCLA finished second in the recruiting sweepstakes for Manti Te'o behind Notre Dame, which is significant since the USC community was certain he was committing to the Trojans. In fact, many stories this morning in the L.A. newspaper are about how USC was stunned by Te'o's decision to go to Notre Dame. It's even more stunning to recognize that UCLA also ultimately did better with Te'o than USC.
An example of Neuheisel's work ethic and ingenuity in recruiting was his hiring of Vae Tata, the former UCLA player, as a temporary assistant coach. When DeWayne Walker left the program to be the head coach at New Mexico State, Neuheisel used the opportunity. Instead of moving quickly to hire another assistant (which was Carnell Lake), Neuheisel hired Tata, who has deep ties to the Polynesian community of Hawaii. Tata, from what we've heard, was instrumental in the recruitment of Hasiak, to get him to re-commit to UCLA after he had dropped the Bruins for Cal, and in the recruitment of Te'o.
Neuheisel also has done wonders in working with the UCLA academic committee. UCLA's 2008 recruiting class had more than the usual amount of prospects that would normally be deemed risky for admission into UCLA. Usually, as UCLA's academic modus operandi goes, if UCLA allowed the program one fairly lenient year, it certainly wouldn't allow another one to follow right after. But the 2009 class, sources tell us, also has a higher number of student-athletes that would be considered risky in the UCLA academic environment. Neuheisel has changed the way the football program presents the recruits' academic profiles to the committee. It includes reference letters from teachers and community figures, and other supporting material. The change in the presentation went a long way in allowing Neuheisel leeway again with the 2009 class.
Of course, some credit goes to Neuheisel's predecessor, Karl Dorrell. The academic committee takes into consideration the academic status of the players currently in the program, and Dorrell was very effective in maintaining a good academic standard for his players. Without it, Neuheisel wouldn't have gotten the players into UCLA from the 2008 and 2009 classes that he did. It's imperative, then, that Neuheisel's program maintains a high academic standard if he wants to continue to be given some academic leniency with recruits.
Of course, it's near-impossible to predict how much of an impact any recruiting class will have on a program. There have been some very highly rated classes that didn't pan out.
But it's pretty evident that Neuheisel filled a number of positions of need – the offensive line, in particular, and depth at defensive back and linebacker. He got commitments from some JC players, which is highly unusual for UCLA (and another accomplishment for Neuheisel), which doesn't usually look to JCs because of UCLA's academic requirements. The JC players will also hopefully give Neuheisel more of an immediate infusion of players who are physically ready to play.
Two JC players didn't sign with the class – the DT Branden Warner, and offensive lineman Shawn Johnson. Warner, apparently, has something holding up his JC transcripts but intends to sign his NLI soon. Warner, Johnson and Eddie Williams, a JC OL who did sign, will have some significant summer academic work to do to be enrolled by fall.
Like we said, it's impossible to know the impact of a recruiting class until a few years down the line. But from a perception standpoint, it's easy to see the impact of the 2009 class. UCLA, coming off a 4-8 record, getting the #4-ranked recruiting class in the nation sends a message – across the nation, across town, and throughout the UCLA community – that Neuheisel definitely has a chance to lift UCLA "where it belongs."